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'Sexual violence against boys is a global problem'

At the age of 12, American actor Martin Moran was sexually abused by an older man. He revisits his past in his award-winning one-man shows, The Tricky Part and All The Rage, which are on a nationwide tour in India. Produced by actor Poorna Jagannathan, the plays address this serious issue with dollops of humour

Greek philosopher Aristotle said the function of theatre is to heal the city. Last year, Nirbhaya, a play helmed by acclaimed writer/director Yael Farber and produced by actor Poorna Jagannathan that was based on the December 2012 gang-rape case, saw five women break their silence on sexual violence. While working on this production, Jagannathan learnt that according to research conducted by Human Rights Watch, an international NGO, one in two boys are sexually abused in India. After watching Broadway actor Martin Moran talk about his sexual abuse as a 12-year-old in his two one-man shows, The Tricky Part and All the Rage, Jagannathan decided it was time to bring them to India. After touring Mumbai, they will be staged at the Rangashankara Theatre in Bangalore from November 11-13 and at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi on November 15 and 16.

(Left to right) Actor Martin Moran, producer Poorna Jagannathan and director Seth Barrish. Pic/ Criag Blankenhorn
(Left to right) Actor Martin Moran, producer Poorna Jagannathan and director Seth Barrish. Pic/ Criag Blankenhorn

Jagannathan says, “After every show of Nirbhaya, audiences would ask why we hadn’t included any stories of boys or men. I hope this tour will encourage men affected by sexual violence to break their silence. Only when we address sexual violence against boys, will we be able to address one of the root causes of violence against women.”

In an interview with sunday mid-day, Moran talks about what prompted him to revisit his past in his plays.

Q. How did the idea for both the plays come about?
The idea of The Tricky Part stemmed from the need to answer a question that everyone asked me when I was in my 30s, “What happened when you were a kid, Martin?” I set out to get to the bottom of this and in the end, the play became a deep exploration and contemplation of forgiveness.

I had to write about what happened when I was a boy and how when I was in my 40s, I faced the man who abused me.

It was imperative for me to understand the complexity of my feelings when I tumbled into sex with a much older man. It was very complicated because he was a teacher and in ways a friend.

What inspired me to write All The Rage was a reaction to The Tricky Part. Some people asked, “Why aren’t you more enraged about the abuse you experienced as a kid?” Suddenly I thought: Have I not dealt with my anger? Is it buried inside me? These questions sent me on a journey to examine anger and compassion and where they meet in human life. And they led me to the truth that all of us are one. We know this on a deeper level, but how do we live it? This is what All The Rage attempts to touch upon.

Q. How difficult was it for you to revisit those chapters of your life and present them in a play? Also, why didn’t you direct the plays yourself?
It was difficult because the narrative is about vulnerable matters such as sex, youth and a feeling of shame. But over time it became less terrifying because I realised I was creating a work that was at its core a human experience and was not really about me but us. I needed a director to be outside of me, to watch and to hear so we could shape together the theatrical experience. I needed director Seth Barrish’s eye as well as his stagecraft to transform the personal narrative into a communal theatrical event.

What prompted you to use humour as a tool?
This is a way of inviting everyone into the deeper territory of complex human questions. We need to laugh in order to trust one another and sit together to talk about the tough stuff.

What were the challenges that you faced while acting in these plays?
Initially, it was terrifying. I felt so vulnerable, ashamed, even embarrassed. But by attempting to tell and examine the truth, you begin to ‘own’ the story less. It is less you and more human. The more I presented these shows across different cultures, the more aware I became of the universality of the plays.

Did these plays serve as a closure?
I wrote my plays to gain some authority over the past and that has happened but I don’t think there is such a thing as closure. But the act of writing them has brought me squarely and joyfully into the present. By understanding what happened in my life, I was able to uncover a great deal of compassion for others and myself and that was
very liberating.

Q. What kind of response are you expecting from Indian audiences?
It’s hard territory to discuss as men are secretive about matters of sexual abuse. Secrecy and reticence are very much a part of the idea of what it is to be masculine. But sexual violence against boys is a global problem. It needs to be talked about with complexity and grace. I hope my plays offer a real chance for communion and discussion of difficult topics.

All The Rage will be staged
At Prithvi House today at 2.30 pm. Log on to www.bookmyshow.com

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